Down on the farm

Prompt: Take us on a sensory journey to a place that is significant to you.

For me, I guess that’s the farm I grew up on. I lived there until I was 17, so it made a pretty big impact on me. You know how they say that you can never go back? Yeah. It’s changed so much.

Anyway, I’ll do you a comparison. A poem I wrote when I was living on the farm, compared to a reflective look back. Of course, I’d had no guidance in writing poetry when I wrote the first one as a teenager, so bear with me.

Escape from Reality

The glowing disc stares at me
as I gaze upon the darkness.
Noise rushes far below
and swaying fingers beckon.

A bellow cracks the silence
and a whimper answers back.
The language of the land I hear,
and now I understand.

I welcome in the dark
and close the door behind it,
but a mournful cry pierces me.
A lonely, aching sound.

And though the night may mock me,
I let reality in.
A flood of disturbance and chaos,
the ticking of time and light.

Disappointed, the wind haunts me
and cold pushes me away.
Unseen eyes watch closely
as I slowly leave the night.

So the first one was everything I could see and hear while sitting on the deck (verandah) of the new house in the dark. I could hear the wind moving through the gum trees. We had a lot of native bush on our farm, but closest to the house was mostly paddocks (fields for animals to graze in) with gum trees to provide shade. I could hear the water gurgling in the creek if I listened hard enough. Of course I could hear livestock – cows and bulls mooing, sheep from the neighbour’s property bleating… Sometimes we could hear horses, but not that night. We had horses at various stages, but they don’t actually make a lot of noise normally. We always had cats and dogs, but again, they don’t usually make a lot of noise at night. On a really still night we could hear the ocean, even though we were about a half hour drive away. More likely though, I’d hear morepork (native owls). I love hearing their distinctive cry. Did you know that if you mimic them, they’ll come closer to investigate if you’re a suitable mate? *Pthb* It’s quite cool to call an owl. That’s what that ‘mournful cry’ line refers to. Even though I used the word mournful, it doesn’t make me sad.

I haven’t mentioned in the poem the clicking of the power to the electric fences. It was on the opposite side of the house. It was a steady click that went off probably every two seconds. Sometimes I hear it in my dreams. Like a metronome almost. In my current house, we have a tin roof and sometimes there’s a steady drip onto the roof and it reminds me of the clicking of the electric fence.

There were no streetlights, so not much to see except the moon and the stars, and any light from the house spilling out into the garden. Sometimes a neighbour would drive up the road, but not often. We lived in a pretty quiet area. There were only three households further up the road I think. If they did it in the daytime, they’d kick up a cloud of dust, but at night you couldn’t see the dust.

Dusty Memories

Memories float like whispers,
tattered dreams of distant times.
An echo of childish laughter
trips down towards the creek.

The thump of the pump in the old tin shed
laid to rest in a rusty bed.
The gurgle of the creek calls me on,
tempting me,
the forgotten allure of Marmite and watercress sandwiches.

The hay barn where dust motes
danced in shafts of light
and the old abandoned cowshed –
Destroyed on a path to progress.

But in my dreams, a little girl
who looks a lot like me
still searches for goose eggs to take home for Mother
and sits in the feijoa tree
and dares the world to steal her dreams.

The second poem is written about daytime memories, based on the old house. We had 330 acres, then my parents sold the house and 300 acres, and built a new house on the remaining 30 acres. I was about 13 when that happened.

We’d wander up the race (the track used to move cattle between paddocks) and get to an old tin shed that housed the water pump. It pumped water from the creek to all the water troughs, I think. I’m sure the house used tank water, so the creek water must have been for the troughs. Anyway, it used to make a thumping, groaning sound.

In front of the old house we had a small orchard. It had:
– a couple of citrus trees
– a peach tree
– a nectarine tree
– a couple of fig trees
– some plum trees
– about 10 feijoa trees.

After we sold it, the new owners removed the orchard. I have a lot of memories of eating fruit from that orchard. On the other side, beside the big wooden gate that stopped cattle coming into the garden, was a loquat tree. It was big enough to sit in.

Past the gate were two buildings and a cattle yard. I don’t know what cattle yards are called overseas, but they’re a series of wooden fences for containing and sorting cattle, and include a ramp to get the cattle onto trucks. Here’s a picture of my dad in ours (many years ago!):

The haybarn was open on one side, and I think it had three bays. It was made with corrugated iron, and it was never full of hay. I think the tractor was stored in one bay, and maybe one bay had bales of hay in it. Can’t remember. There were small holes in the walls and roof that allowed tiny shafts of sunlight to poke through every now and then, and I distinctly remember watching the dust motes from the hay dance in the sunlight.

The other building was a small, old cowshed that wasn’t used in my lifetime that I remember. I don’t really have vivid memories of it. We didn’t have milking cows, ours was a beef farm. Our neighbour milked cows though, and when they were away on holiday or whatever, Dad would milk their cows. I remember helping out. My little sister especially loved using the high pressure hose to clean the muck off the concrete floor. I remember walking through where the farmer walks to put the cups on the cows, and having to dodge incoming cow shit. *Laugh* I remember drinking warm milk straight out of the tank. Completely unpasteurised of course, and full cream. And warm. Ugh, I hate warm milk. I wrote about that too.

He proffers a drink of cold milk, condensation beading on the glass and wending down to his chilled fingertips.  But part of me can’t move past the memory of collecting fresh milk from the cowshed, so creamy we’d stir it before pouring it over cornflakes.  It would slide into my mouth, the silky warmth reminding me that just moments earlier it had been inside that nameless, faceless cow.  I shudder, declining his kind offer.

And I remember sitting on their water tank next to the cowshed and talking with the neighbours’ girls (they had three daughters as well). And I have memories of listening to the milk tanker grind its way up the hill to our house, then go round the ‘tanker track’ to collect milk from the cowshed.

If you followed the race far enough on the farm, you’d get to a concrete culvert (a small concrete bridge over the creek). We’d pick watercress there and have it on sandwiches with Marmite. I wrote about that too.

Good Clean Country Living

Bare feet skimming through the grass,
my sisters and I ran
helter skelter
to the burbling creek,
laughter streaming behind us
like the octopus-tailed kites
we’d flown in the paddock.
Pukeko sprinted for the bush,
startled by our noisy approach,
gangly red legs scampering for safety,
white tail feathers flashing.
Dipping our dirty toes in the cool water,
we bypassed the blanket of duckweed,
searching for our objective –
peppery wild watercress,
the perfect addition to Marmite sandwiches.
We picked a perfect bunch
of leafy greens,
rinsing them clean of bugs,
and set off for the farmhouse,
racing each other to the gate.
Later that evening, Dad informed us
of the bloated cow carcass further upstream,
sending a river of germs
straight to our watercress patch.
Mmm, gotta love fresh, organic food
straight from the source.

And if you walked all the way to the furthest edge of our property, you’d be standing at the top of a hill. You’d see gorse and grass. Sometimes a wild deer if you were lucky (I lived there 17 years and I think I saw them once). You could look all the way to the West Coast of New Zealand, and if it was very still, you could hear the Tasman Sea on the West Coast and the Pacific Ocean on the East Coast.

So yup, there you go. That’s my description of the farm where I grew up.  It was a wonderful place to grow up as a child. My sisters and I, along with the neighbour’s girls, used to camp by the creek sometimes, just to have a little adventure, have some time away from the adults. During the day, we were allowed to roam free. We’d be gone all day, without the adults knowing where we were. Later, when we were older, we’d go elsewhere. We’d bike to the lake, which was 12km (7.5mi) away. It was a big lake too, covering 40 acres with a maximum depth of 6m (20ft). It was popular with water skiers. We also rode the horses to visit our neighbours after they moved away. That was a ride of about 10km (6mi).

My kids are city kids, and they get nowhere near the freedom I had. Especially when you bear in mind that my sisters and I didn’t have cellphones, so there was no way of contacting us when we were away from home. Kind of freaks me out as a parent!

Do you have a special place from your childhood that lives on in your memories?


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